Gonadotropin suppression in men leads to a reduction in claudin-11 at the Sertoli cell tight junction

M.J. McCabe, G.A. Tarulli, G Laven-Law, K.L. Matthiesson, S.J. Meachem, R.I. McLachlan, M.E. Dinger, P.G. Stanton

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Are Sertoli cell tight junctions (TJs) disrupted in men undergoing hormonal contraception? SUMMARY ANSWER: Localization of the key Sertoli cell TJ protein, claudin-11, was markedly disrupted by 8 weeks of gonadotropin suppression, the degree of which was related to the extent of adluminal germ cell suppression. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Sertoli cell TJs are vital components of the blood-testis barrier (BTB) that sequester developing adluminal meiotic germ cells and spermatids from the vascular compartment. Claudin-11 knockout mice are infertile; additionally claudin-11 is spatially disrupted in chronically gonadotropin-suppressed rats coincident with a loss of BTB function, and claudin-11 is disorganized in various human testicular disorders. These data support the Sertoli cell TJ as a potential site of hormonal contraceptive action. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: BTB proteins were assessed by immunohistochemistry (n = 16 samples) and mRNA (n = 18 samples) expression levels in available archived testis tissue from a previous study of 22 men who had undergone 8 weeks of gonadotropin suppression and for whom meiotic and post-meiotic germ cell numbers were available. The gonadotropin suppression regimens were (i) testosterone enanthate (TE) plus the GnRH antagonist, acyline (A); (ii) TE + the progestin, levonorgestrel, (LNG); (iii) TE + LNG + A or (iv) TE + LNG + the 5alpha-reductase inhibitor, dutasteride (D). A control group consisted of seven additional men, with three archived samples available for this study. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTINGS, METHODS: Immunohistochemical localization of claudin-11 (TJ) and other junctional type markers [ZO-1 (cytoplasmic plaque), beta-catenin (adherens junction), connexin-43 (gap junction), vinculin (ectoplasmic specialization) and beta-actin (cytoskeleton)] and quantitative PCR was conducted using matched frozen testis tissue. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Claudin-11 formed a continuous staining pattern at the BTB in control men. Regardless of gonadotropin suppression treatment, claudin-11 localization was markedly disrupted and was broadly associated with the extent of meiotic/post-meiotic germ cell suppression; claudin-11 staining was (i) punctate (i.e. spotty appearance) at the basal aspect of tubules when the average numbers of adluminal germ cells were 40 of control. Changes in localization of connexin-43 and vinculin were also observed (smaller effects than for claudin-11) but ZO-1, beta-catenin and beta-actin did not differ, compared with control. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Claudin-11 was the only Sertoli cell TJ protein investigated, but it is considered to be the most pivotal of constituent proteins given its known implication in infertility and BTB function. We were limited to testis samples which had been gonadotropin-suppressed for 8 weeks, shorter than the 74-day spermatogenic wave, which may account for the heterogeneity in claudin-11 and germ cell response observed among the men. Longer suppression (12-24 weeks) is known to suppress germ cells further and claudin-11 disruption may be more uniform, although we could not access such samples. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: These findings are important for our understanding of the sites of action of male hormonal contraception, because they suggest that BTB function could be ablated following long-term hormone suppression treatment. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTERESTS: National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) Program Grants 241000 and 494802; Research Fellowship 1022327 (to R.I.M.) and the Victorian Government s Operational Infrastructure Support Program. None of the authors have any conflicts to disclose. TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: Not applicable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-886
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2016


  • human
  • claudin-11
  • spermatogenesis
  • Sertoli cell tight junction
  • Male hormonal contraception

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